[Century Media, 2013]
Metal doesn’t have to be constantly evil to be good. It helps, but it’s not a requirement. Los Angeles quartet Intronaut is a band that has figured out the nearly perfect formula; something like the square root of evilness over complexity divided by solemnity makes up their unique blend of progressive metal. When I say “evil,” I don’t (only) mean it in the traditional sense of murdering bandmates and setting churches on fire, but rather the menacing sonic nature that metal music typically carries: meaty, angry guitars and meatier, angrier singers. It makes no sense because it’s metal–and because it just makes no sense, but that’s half the fun in metal, anyway. On their fourth full-length record, Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words WIth Tones), Intronaut have found their purest and most delicate balance; the band’s quieter passages are given tortured beauty and weight like never before when stacked up against the meatiest sections of their career.
While previous records like 2010’s Valley Of Smoke and 2008’s Prehistoricisms saw the makings of that divide; their records became increasingly more progressive, with Intronaut’s sludgy roots unable to fully express the scope of the band’s talents and messages. Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words With Tones) is easily the band’s grandest statement, and their most complex juxtaposition of the band’s multi-faceted intricacies and raw heaviness to date. Singer/guitarist Sacha Dunable believes that balance is what makes Habitual Levitations such an intriguing record, saying, “The idea has always been to mix those two elements, though maybe the balance goes one way more than the other sometimes. I actually think this is a much heavier record than the last.” Dunable understands that unwieldy power can only go so far in expressing a sense of heaviness.
Right out of the gates, Habitual Levitations feels like a lesson in typical heaviness within the context of metal music, with thick guitars and sharply piercing percussion flourishes leading in “Killing Birds With Stones,” but the track’s menacing nature flips to languid introspection at the drop of a hat. Dunable’s melodic invites the listener to look inside themselves, as he sings, “Does the day keep you up at night?” The type of sweeping scope that a question like that one carries with it is indicative of the record as a whole–whereas Intronaut has typically worked within the confines of ever-present concepts, Habitual Levitations asks the listener to view each piece as its own entity. Despite this, they still manage to string the tracks together in such a way that makes one track feel as if it is a the very least a second cousin to the last; though they’re not joined at the hip as in the past, the tracks form a cohesive sonic statement, at the very least.
The complexly arranged “Killing Birds With Stones” gives way to the more abrasive “The Welding,” with guitars shrieking for help in their tightly layered rhythmic cage, intricately woven by drummer Danny Walker and bassist Joe Lester. Though the track is much more upfront in its angry approach, there is still a veil of mysticism giving it an extra layer of depth and allowing for separate contexts to be placed upon the listening of the record. Habitual Levitations can be digested in a number of ways. The heady, complex nature of much of the record–every track ventures off into space from punishingly volcanic roots–gives the listener something to get lost in, to move organically through rather than be bludgeoned by it. The beautiful thing about tracks like “Sore Sight For Eyes” and lead single “Milk Leg” is that while you may feel like you’re floating through them, you’re actually being bludgeoned. Hard.
This juxtaposition follows in a long line of modern-day metal bands shedding their long lines of brutality for brighter spots, lulling the listener into believing he or she is safe before dropping the hammer even more forcibly. Mastodon and Baroness are two primary examples of metal bands coming out of the sludge to examine the atmosphere, and Habitual Levitations is Intronaut’s statement in the same vein. Dunable stated that these songs, and singing melodically as opposed to strictly growling, “feels more natural to me now than screaming into a mic. I still love our old music, and even enjoy playing those songs, but writing that kind of brutal stuff just doesn’t feel natural to me right now.” We are entering an astonishing era where bands previously responsible for the most terrifying, brutal music around are turning to pointing their virtuosic talents toward the cosmos.
As the last strains of the prolonged “The Way Down” drip through the speakers, it’s evident that the expansion of Intronaut’s sound is for the best. They had a lot to offer the metal world before, but in crafting a record that straddles the line so profoundly, they now have a lot to offer the music world as a whole. It’s a testament to their musicianship that in reaching beyond that realm of darkness (something that is typically looked down upon), they crafted something universal enough to make both camps happy.